“Boston Herald” Article—A Sign of the Times

Public Sympathy for Brockton Nurses Echoed in Mainstream Press  

[Our readers will undoubtedly find the following article surprising and significant. We reprint it from the June 1 Boston Herald, where it appeared under the headline “Nurses Strike Is Life, Death.” Excellent work by reporter Beverly Beckham.]

Imagine this: A pilot flies from Paris to Boston, an eight-hour flight. Then instead of getting some time off, he’s told he has to reboard the plane and fly back to Paris.

Would you want to be a passenger on that plane? Would you even fly that airline, if you knew that forcing bleary-eyed pilots to work double shifts was routine?

Nobody can work 16-hour days without showing fatigue.

Nurses at Brockton Hospital work 16-hour days regularly. That’s why 429 of them walked off their jobs last Friday and that’s why they’re picketing today. They’re tired of being told they can’t go home when their shift is over. They’re tired of being forced to take care of critically ill people when they can hardly keep their eyes open.

And they’re tired of worrying about being so tired they’ll make a tragic mistake.

“Every day 15 to 20 shifts aren’t covered. So there’s a list of people who have to work overtime. It’s mandatory. The names rotate. When yours comes up, you have to stay,” says Kathy, a nurse of 20 years. “It doesn’t matter if you’re up 24 hours. It doesn’t matter if you say you don’t want to work. You have to. It’s required.”

Karen is an emergency room nurse. Brockton has the third busiest ER in the state.

“Most evenings the ER looks like a war zone being cared for by a tired skeleton crew. Add mandatory overtime to the picture and it is a lethal mix.”

She says it hurts her to see the profession she loves “dictated by business-minded superiors who have no idea what it is like down in the trenches…You can’t expect one nurse to do the work of three of four. But this is what we do every day.”

Brockton Hospital requires its nurses to work when they’re dead on their feet because of the profit-driven bottom line. It is more cost-effective to pay employees time-and-a-half for an additional shift than to hire more full-time RNs and pay them salary plus benefits. This, while Brockton Hospital lines the pockets of CEO Norman Goodman with more than $500,000 a year, plus a Mercedes-Benz, plus free housing.

It’s no wonder that on the streets of Brockton, the support is for the nurses.

Motorists passing by beep and wave and give them the thumbs up. Police, firefighters, bus drivers — even the doctors inside the hospital support the nurses, although not openly.

“Patient Care is Our First Responsibility” reads a poster on the wall of the office where strikers gather. Patient care and patient safety are the reasons for this walkout. In the 4 months before the strike, nurses at the hospital filed 49 official reports of incidents where staffing levels placed patient care in jeopardy.

Between 1995 and 2000, according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, at least 1,720 hospital patients nationwide were accidentally killed and 9,584 others injured “from the actions or inaction of registered nurses across the country, who have seen their daily routine radically altered by cuts in staff and other belt-tightening in U.S. hospitals.”

“Conditions are getting worse here [at Brockton]. That’s why we’re doing this now,” says Barbara, another veteran of 20 years.

All we’re asking is to staff appropriately. We’re worn out. We can’t do it anymore,” says Kathy.

On Mother’s Day, before they went on strike, three nurses came to work at 3 p.m. and didn’t get off duty until 7 a.m. the next day. “I wouldn’t want someone who has been on duty for 16 hours regulating my dopamine drip,” says Maureen, a retired nurse from Boston.

They’re not looking for a half-million dollars and a Mercedes. They just want more staff to assure safe patient care. And the right to refuse overtime.